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Space colonies of the future as imagined by NASA in the 1970s

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  • 7 days ago

  • @rlv-dan
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  • • 236 comments

Space colonies of the future as imagined by NASA in the 1970s


@yboris 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

My favorite exploration of the possible future technologies is from a 1990 book:

Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition by Ed Regis

It includes a great section on space travel and space living.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Mambo_Chicken_and_the_Tr...

https://www.amazon.com/Great-Mambo-Chicken-Transhuman-Condit...

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@kristianp 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

These drawings are in Gerard k o'Neill's book, "the High Frontier". I remember reading it in the 80s, my local library in Australia had a copy.

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@pensatoio 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

If you enjoy fantasizing about these feats of engineering, mega-structures and space travel, I'd recommend checking out the Bobiverse Series by Dennis Taylor!

Super funny, and very relatable, if you're a creator or engineer.

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@fudged71 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Besides Halo, are there any great videogames or VR experiences that allow you to explore toroidal space colonies like this?

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@reaperducer 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

The future was so much better in the past.

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@whalesalad 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

It was all the cocaine!

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@chadwittman 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

This feels like it would be an amazing concept for a RTS or turn-based strategy game.

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@etxm 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Those lakes are going to be a real bitch when belters hit these rings with an EMP.

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@codeulike 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

I remember seeing some of these actual pictures in the late 70s, early 80s, they were very striking and mindblowing to me as a child, the idea of huge pieces of structure with lush green parks and farmland in space. They are really memorable and probably shaped a lot of peoples imaginations about what might be possible one day.

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@jl2718 6 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Giant ball of water / human aquarium. It will be ice on the outside like Europa, and a nuclear core heating the whole thing (also possibly like Europa). There’s no other practical way. This will be obvious once the majority of humans are permanently living beneath the surface of the ocean.

Signed, former NASA guy, unpopular with the spacecraft engineering crowd

P.S. Yes, I know; Simpsons did it.

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@wefarrell 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Instead of perpetual manned space missions I’d like to see an experimental off world self sustaining biosphere. Put it in orbit, on the moon, or Mars and try to keep it alive while maintaining or increasing biodiversity. Make it modular so that it can be expanded and over time gradually introduce more complex forms of life.

There are many experiments of various types of organisms in space but I’m not aware of any that test and try to sustain entire ecosystems, something that’s essential for prolonged human life off of this planet.

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@anthonyaykut 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Wow, I can see where Neill Blomkamp got his inspiration for Elysium :)

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@noneeeed 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

I recently listened to the audiobook of Arthur C Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama. It's full of great descriptions of a habitat akin to one of these, especially with the experience of getting from the entry-point at the axis to the outer wall.

It might be the only book that's ever given me the feeling of agoraphobia with some of the descriptions. I'd love to see some kind of adaptation, but it's not sure if a TV screen could ever do justice to the scale.

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@mattkevan 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

One of my favourite books as a kid wa ‘The Usbourne Book of the Future’, which outlined the next 5000 years of human development and featured a lot of these illustrations.

I’m still bitterly disappointed that the timeline it proposed was not accurate.

Check out the amazing cassette futurism illustrations:

https://duckduckgo.com/?q=usborne+book+of+the+future&t=iphon...

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@mobb_solo 6 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Is anyone familiar with Paulo Solari's work on asteroids and such..? He was one of Frank Lloydd Write's Fellows.

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@ncmncm 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

To me the definitive SF treatment of these things is Alexis Gilliland's Rosinante series.

The idea of mirror flaps swinging around as the cylinder rotated was ridiculed, and brilliantly replaced with the Mitsubishi Dragonscale Mirror Array, a cone of millions of individually-steered mirrors. Clever re-uses of that drove major plot points both as a weapon, a la Archimedean defense against ships, then as the light pump for a beam weapon, which then became remote power for vapor-phase asteroid ore refinement, and then for a capital ship, all background for solar-system-scale political intrigue.

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@kache_ 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

A utopia that was once common across America.

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@ChuckMcM 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Yeah, I felt pretty ripped off by NASA :-) As a kid I fully expected to be spending vacations on the Moon by 2010. If Starship meets about 65% of the vision SpaceX has for it I have some hope that I might be able to go into orbit before I die.

All in all though, what NASA really needed to make this stuff real was what SpaceX is working to provide, sending tonnage into orbit at an economic price.

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@illys 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Would the dream be complete without the O'Neill Cylinder Rama 3D animation? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBIQCm54dfY&t=58s

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@cletus 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

What a lot of concepts ignore is material requirements, which is super-important.

A good example is Larry Niven's Ringworld. It's a cool idea in the early days when people were thinking about mass-to-living-area ratio but to produce Earth-like gravity at an Earth-like distance would require the thing to spin at (IIRC) ~1.5m km/h. The centrifugal force would tear that apart.

Likewise, people mistakenly view a Dyson Sphere as a rigid shell around a star. That was never the concept. This misconception is so common it's led to the term Dyson Swarm, which was always the original intent: a "cloud" of orbitals around a star all moving independently.

The likely future of space habitation is (IMHO) going to use the humble O'Neil Cylinder [1]. This is nothing more than a cylinder a few miles wide and maybe a couple of dozen long. Such a cylinder could potentially house millions. They're large enough such that spin gravity wouldn't be disorienting and small enough such that they don't require exotic materials (eg space elevators for Earth require exotic materials we haven't even theorized yet other than possibly graphene).

So an O'Neil cylinder can be built of nothing more sophisticated than stainless steel.

You have options of joining them to other cylinders. You can build a "ladder", which is a series of orbitals all in the same orbit but slightly displaced. You could even run cables for transportation between them. You could construct networks of these things.

You put solar cells on the outside and a window at one end, possibly using refractive materials down the center to create more pleasing diffuse light and the whole thing is reasonably low tech and low maintenance.

You could even build them by hollowing out asteroids and other space bodies.

The mac daddy to the O'Neil Cylinder is the McKendree Cylinder [2]. Instead of being a few miles wide, it might be hundreds of miles wide and much longer. This is beyond the tensile strength of stainless steel but within the theorized limits of graphene.

Such a cylinder could comfortably house billions of people.

As much as it's cool to have things like the micro-gee environment of the ISS, I honestly wish we'd start building prototypes for spin gravity. This would greatly simplify living in such an environment for extended period of time.

To give you an idea of how efficient thing is for living area, IIRC the estimate is about 1% of the mass of Mercury could consume essentially be a complete Dyson Swarm around the Sun and comfortably house a quintillion (10^15) people.

Planets are nice and all but are horribly inefficient uses of mass to create living area and come with some serious negatives, not the least of which is the energy cost of entering and leaving such a gravity well.

This is also why looking for the signature of such a Dyson Swarm as evidence of extraterrestrial spacefaring life makes way more sense than pretty much any other approach. Saying that we're less than 1000 years away from having this kind of space-industry is beyond conservative. 1000 years ago we were throwing spears at each other.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O%27Neill_cylinder

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McKendree_cylinder

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@ortusdux 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

I was thinking about these drawings yesterday when I saw the mockup of a ring made from 32 Starship fuselages. Welded end to end, 32 pieces would net a 1/4 mile diameter ring with a volume ~85x the ISS.

Elon estimates that the refueling procedure necessary for interplanetary starship missions would require 8 fuel tanker starship launches, but this could be cut in half if the tankers were stripped of the elements needed for reentry and landing.

I could see the economics working out to where it would make more sense to launch stripped down single use fuel tanker starships, and then sell the empty orbiting shells to someone interested in building in space.

https://caseyhandmer.wordpress.com/2021/11/17/science-upside....

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@ggerules 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

In someway this reminds me of the wonderful 1940s and 1950s artwork by Chelsey K. Bonestell.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chesley_Bonestell

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@matchagaucho 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Stewart Cowley defined 1970s space illustrations. No other Artist inspired me more. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stewart_Cowley

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@RcouF1uZ4gsC 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Looking at these images, I can't help but feel that any real space colony like this will be like Singapore on steroids.

For all its issues, Earth is actually pretty resilient. To ability to destroy civilization is pretty much limited to very large nation states.

Not so in a spinning space colony. A small group could easily destroy it. Thus, there will be ubiquitous surveillance and huge social and legal pressure towards "correct" behavior.

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@hermitcrab 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Images of O'Neil cylinders captivated me as a child, and they still do now. So familiar and yet so weird.

Something similar is depicted in the film 'Elysium'. But it is a open torus, rather than a closed cylinder and they never explain how they keep the atmosphere in.

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@micromacrofoot 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Iconic and beautiful but there's no way there'd be that much green space. We can barely agree to prioritize green space on earth and it's outrageously easier here.

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@calebpeterson 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

As a child my local public library had a series of books with these and similar futuristic artwork.

I loved those books!

By chance does anyone know what they might have been?

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@shadowgovt 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

These pictures always make me smile for several reasons.

One, they had a significant impact on the science fiction that came after them. We see recapitulation of this imagery in a lot of '70s-'90s anime (less often in live action, which I attribute to cost to film it).

Two, I believe when we get anywhere near a technology level to try something like this, the result will look radically different. I'm reminded of the way that old depictions of the Earth from space rarely included the clouds, which are omnipresent and unavoidable when actually looking at the planet. Some things, a person just can't imagine until they're there.

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@stickfigure 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

The future isn't what it used to be.

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@dsign 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

I have been doing a lot of flying over the deserts using flight simulators. There is so much space still on the planet! At the same time, we can't afford to use any more of it. Let's face it, we never were a benign species for the other ones[^1], not even when we were naked and mostly ate roots.

But without space to live, grow, and try new things, our humanity is maimed. The path of least losing is leaving the planet alone, and making our own habitats.

[^1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_extinction

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@jimbob45 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_N3EYMgya4

Looking at what the past thought space exploration would become is really fun. Disney and Wernher Von Braun collaborated to make a happily imaginative view into space exploration back in 1955.

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@mongol 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

I recognise these illustrations, they were used for cover for an edition of a Swedish translation of Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke. Probably borrowed by the publisher but I assumed they were made for the book.

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@WiggleGuy 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

I find it hilarious they expected to waste massive amounts of expensive real estate to rear cattle in space.

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@kgin 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

I was OBSESSED with the first image of the toroidal station as a kid. Haven’t seen it in so long and this instantly made me feel like I was 8 years old again.

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@fallingfrog 6 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

This actually feels more plausible to me than colonies on Mars, to be honest. The delta v to get materials from one place to another in zero g is much smaller, so travel between cylinders would be pretty cheap, and solar panels would be easy to make thin and cheap too. Mars on the other hand has all the disadvantages of being in a gravity well but without the breathable atmosphere of earth or mineral wealth of the asteroid belt. Worst of both worlds.

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@SeanFerree 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

The 70's were just such a great decade!

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@wdb 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Love the drawings.

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@mabbo 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

One thing many of these designs don't bring up is long-term growth. Is the plan to build it once and that's it? Boring, and too prone to failure if the project runs into trouble at any point in time.

What I'd prefer to see is a space construction that is continuous. Imagine a ring station, but one that is cellular in nature- lots of smaller modules that together form the huge station. This allows one to construct and add further modules over time, growing as needed.

The beauty of this design principle is that we could start today. Design the first iteration of these modules, with the intent to fit them into SpaceX's Starship (or whatever heavy rockets come next). Launch 10 or 20 of them, connect them, and spin them up to 1/5th gravity, something not too hard to do. Add modules in the centre of the ring that are zero-G, where zero-G things can be done- but allowing those who live on station to live in mild gravity at least.

All the while, you can dream big. You can plan for how this station goes from 10 or 20 small modules to thousands.

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@JKCalhoun 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

So optimistic.

I miss those days.

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@sopooneo 6 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

In one of the pictures I believe I see a hang glider. I am breaking my brain trying to figure out the dynamics there. Maybe it's simpler than I'm imagining, but what happens as you fly "up-rotation" at speed?

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@KingOfCoders 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

As a kid of the 70s I know all that stuff promised to me.

All I got was confusing USB cabling and Zoom that has problems detecting my camera and sound.

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@ttGpN5Nde3pK 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

This must be where the idea for Halo came from.

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@cblconfederate 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

So boring. So, like the earth except a lot more expensive and trapped in a tube. Meanwhile, with a little bit of genetic engineering we could turn ourselves to self-propelled, solar-powered, AI-augmented interstellar rockets.

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@melling 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

The life of Dr Gerard O’Neill is worth a read:

http://ssi.org/the-life-of-gerard-k-oneill/

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@dr-detroit 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Don't forget to support these rapacious eugenicists by wasting your hard earned cash on doge coin the silly meme lol facebook is fun.

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@asiachick 6 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

I get the sinking feeling that large earth orbit space stations will never happen because they are too fragile to space debris. It's like imagine any single person could destroy the entire freeway system of a 10 million person metropolis in a way that would take decades to recover from anytime they wanted. Maybe that's not how fragile it is but it's how it seems. I suppose if we ever perfect force fields we can "raise the shields"?

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@jonplackett 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Just looking at the designs - almost all have a rounded base - pretty sure that would cause a weird 'gravity' direction anywhere except the centre-line of the ring.

(Sorry I've been readying The Expanse series too much and it's making me very pedantic about spin gravity)

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@dekhn 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

I really loved these when I was a kid and it was a major reason I was so enamoured with human space travel. Nowadays I look at this and think "who'd have the cash to build and operate that?"

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@ciroduran 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Once I read the headline I thought of the fantastic books by Usborne (or Plesa in the Spanish speaking world), Future Cities[^1] and the Book of the Future [^2]. These illustrations are super inspirational.

[^1] https://2warpstoneptune.com/2014/03/04/usborne-publishing-th...

[^2] https://www.murrayewing.co.uk/mewsings/2011/04/17/the-usborn...

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@vhodges 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

If you like the art, you might enjoy https://spacehabs.com/ too.

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@bni 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

I love these pictures, and also the description of something similar in Neuromancer.

Someone should do an open world game that took place in one of these.

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@davidw 7 days

Replying to @rlv-dan 🎙

Big nostalgia. I was born in the mid 70ies, and remember having books my parents got me with these sorts of techno-utopian illustrations. It all seemed so cool, and maybe we were headed that way.

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